3 charged in presidential helicopter scheme

AP News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2014 1:08 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Three men face charges in a fraud scheme involving a helicopter fleet that transports the president and vice president, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The men are accused of involvement in a bid-rigging plot for Marine Helicopter Squadron One, though the maintenance bid ultimately lost, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker.

Craig Kolhagen, Dennis Pennington and James Bowling have been indicted on charges including wire fraud and procurement fraud, according to the news release.

Kolhagen served in the Marines and now does contracting for Marine Helicopter Squadron One, known as HMX-1, which provides presidential transportation and is based at the Marine Corps Air Facility in Quantico, Virginia.

Pennington and Bowling head up Valour LLC, an Abbeville, Louisiana-based defense contractor. Both men also served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Bowling was chief aviation mechanic for the HMX-1 squadron before retiring in 2005. From 1998 to 2001, he served alongside Kolhagen in that unit, according to court papers.

According to an indictment handed down Wednesday, Kolhagen in 2013 illegally gave Pennington and Bowling information about a three-year maintenance contract for the squadron, including estimates on how much government officials thought the work should cost.

Prosecutors say Kolhagen, working with the other two men, then pressured government officials to increase the annual maintenance cost estimate from $840,000 to $1.4 million. Ultimately, according to court papers, the government increased the contract price to nearly $1.2 million per year.

Valour and several other companies then submitted bids to a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based committee, with Valour's proposal coming in just under the confidential cost estimate that the government says Kolhagen leaked to the company.

Valour ultimately lost the bid, and prosecutors say that Kolhagen — with coaching from Bowling — then unsuccessfully lobbied committee members to change their decision.

Court documents did not list attorneys for the men, and no hearings have been scheduled.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP